Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Fall of Realpolitik?

Wiki Leaks, the unrest in Egypt, Libya and elsewhere in the Middle East, and the availability of Facebook, Twitter and the internet in general--can realpolitik co-exist in this new world?

Consider Libya--what a barrel of monkeys that has turned into for the west. First, Reagan decided to confront Gaddafi in the mid 80s after a nightclub bombing in Germany by trying to murder his butt in Tripoli. He survived but a family member didn't, and he allegedly responded by blowing up Pan Am 103 over Scotland in 1988. There were all kinds of conspiracies about the culprits (including an early version of trutherism) but we convinced Moammar to turn over suspect al-Megrahi for trial in the late 90s, which occurred to little fanfare during 2001 with Megrahi sentenced to jail time in Scotland.

Then somehow the west missed a Libyan NBC program until a ship was captured heading to Tripoli in 2003. With Saddam fresh from his spider-hole capture the conventional wisdom is that Moammar came to Jesus and gave up his program in return for us giving up his terrorist nation status. Condi Rice was a believer, as were many others. Meanwhile it appears the nuke program came from China through Pakistan (with help from AQ Khan), two countries we continue to suck up to at every opportunity. More on Pakistan in a minute.

Later came billions of dollars of penalty settlements not only for the victims of Pan Am 103 but for those of ATA 772, another airliner he allegedly brought down a year later in 1989.

All the while BP and Blair were angling for more Libyan oil. But to get it they were going to be put through some hellish hoops. Recently released documents now show that he was in a better bargaining position than the west would have liked, actively strong-arming international oil companies for access, such as having them pay part of the terrorist settlement. The Brits dabbled with prisoner swaps, and previous cables said he was threatening western business people in the country. Yet they soldiered on.

Then the guy who always wanted to be Saddam played the Megrahi card. He just couldn't help himself.

But so desperate were the Brits for oil that even this wasn't a crossed line. It appears they were willing to lie about the terrorist's health to get him back to Libya, risking a hero's welcome Gaddafi promised not to give but one which was certainly predictable. No doubt Clinton and Bush and Obama knew about this the entire time but had to put on their shock faces when the news broke about Megrahi's release in 2009. After all, the greater good was at stake.

Now today it was reported that a former minister claimed Moammar himself ordered Megrahi to pull off the Pan Am 103 attack. If true (and it's hard to prove) that even makes the release sound more risky, since the Brits can be seen as legitimately negotiating with a terrorist and places Gaddafi himself in the crosshairs of international justice. By the way, the presumed bomb-maker was picked up in 2003--guess where:
Khala Khadar al Salahat, a member of ANO, surrendered to the First Marine Division in Baghdad on April 18, 2003. According to an August 25, 2002 report in the Sunday Times of London, a Palestinian source claimed that Salahat and Nidal had furnished Libyan agents the Semtex (plastic explosive) bomb that destroyed Pan American Flight 103 over Lockerbie Scotland in 1988. Among the 259 persons killed in the air and 11 killed on the ground were 35 American college students.
Abu Nidal was also holed-up in Baghdad but killed himself with three bullets to the head before we arrived. He was in government housing along with one of the bomb-makers of the first WTC attack and another notorious bomb-maker, both of whom are still at large. Sort of brings more clarity to the spider-hole moment in the eyes of Moammar--no doubt he had his connections but certainly also knows where bodies are buried (odds on him making it to the Hague, anyone?).

Of course in the old days all we'd see on TV would be a few smiling politicians and some oil company press releases or some perp walks. Facts were slow to trickle out.

But the world is changing. Technology is leading this change, and those who ignore its power are being steamrolled. Realpolitik, or engaging in risky or below-board conduct in the smoke-filled backrooms, mostly for the greater good (with the politician smiling for the cameras and saying the opposite) seems to be getting harder to pull off. How can we make backroom deals when someone is anonymously blogging or tweeting about it almost as it happens?

Take for instance that captured "diplomat" in Pakistan. In the old days stories like these might only appear on some foreign magazine stand...
Pakistan, however, says that the two men Davis killed were ISI agents sent to follow him after it was discovered he had been making contact with al Qaeda after his cell phone was tracked to the Waziristan tribal area bordering Afghanistan where the Pakistani Taliban and a dozen other militant groups have forged a safe haven and former CIA agent Tim Osman (also known as Osama bin Laden) is believed to be in hiding.
...that is, unless they came from a Clancy novel or an Ahmadinejad press release. But today the public is increasingly receiving a blizzard of information up front with the reader left to figure out an approximate truth. In the days of realpolitik the mainstream news media filtered it for us, now they are seen as less than credible leading to sites like, well, this one. Is it better or just different? Not sure, maybe something to adjust to--but going back to the past is not attractive in the least bit.

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